- Religion and Philosophy
The Good Rascals
Why Symbols of Integrity Don't Last
I was recently reading about Freemasonry and found this statement: “Among the Greeks, who were a highly poetical and imaginative people, the square was deemed a figure of perfection.” The term square was sometimes used to refer to “a man of unsullied integrity.” (from Freemasonry: Revered Wisdom abridged from The Symbolism of Freemasonry by Albert G. Mackey, originally published in 1882)
Although I like integrity (and think it crucial to living a successful life), I reacted against the image of a man so upright. Like anyone, I’ve met some who were posturing at integrity while shaky on how to have any. Still, one can clearly see that for many centuries the symbol of the square did represent folks you could trust to be fair and honest.
What happened to that perfectly good symbol?
We should probably ask first, what happened to the integrity it represented. I think people got confused and let integrity slip away. They tried to keep it by maintaining the symbol, the upright posture, but they lost themselves and the self-trust needed to create an honest life. Integrity doesn’t have a whole lot to do with being upright the way some play that role, to cover a lack of confidence. It’s having enough courage and confidence to take a direct look at what is going on and to say what you see.
I came of age during the 1960s when “squares” were those with the least integrity. Of course, we hippies carried that idea too far. One day when our family was grocery shopping, our toddler son pointed at the cashier and asked, “Mommy, is that a square?” We felt we had to hush him. And we quit calling “the unenlightened” squares. Because, when it came down to particulars, that cashier seemed a good enough person.
The symbol of the square was adopted in antiquity when the world was flat. And that meant that observed truth was laid out like a square. We no longer think like that. Buckminster Fuller showed that a square made of wood will collapse into a parallelogram while a triangle made of wood will stay rigid. He noted that the surface of a globe is made of triangles. He compared the surface of the earth to an orange peel, which, if cut at the middle (equator) and twice around the poles, yields eight triangles. Fuller developed the dome composed of triangles as a more stable structure than a cube.
Not that the triangle became a symbol of integrity.
But, for hippies, long hair did
become such a symbol. For perhaps a
decade, you could pretty well count on a man with long hair. You knew he had refused entitlement and
aligned himself with the folks. Of course, it didn’t take long for men
with less integrity to catch on to the style and begin to grow long hair. Wouldn’t
you, if you lacked confidence, adopt the current signs and symbols of
goodness? By the 1980s long-haired men
were a mixed group. You had to have more
to go on before you trusted one. Another
perfectly good symbol bit the dust. Which
only shows that symbols don’t last, and that integrity must stand on its own
apart from any symbol. And it may be quite a bit more varied than a square or a hair style could suggest.
As for how to find an honest person—other than going about with a lantern in the daytime like Diogenes—I personally would expect to find them among the rascals as least as often as among the upright. I trust that those good Masons and spiritual hippies still know how to play. A little mischief leavens the loaf.